Monday, October 29, 2012

I Gotta Bad Feeling About This...

So, I had a great day yesterday.  I worked my tail off, and got most of my list accomplished.  For those of you keeping track, I only managed 5 loads of laundry instead of 6, and only got 2 of the 5 folded.  I figured folding laundry is something that doesn't require electricity, so as long as it's washed, I can fold it later (Plus, playing Bubble Safari and Angry Birds does require electricity, so I needed to get my fix in).  Before you besmirch me, let me tell you that, in addition to the listed items, I ended up cleaning some expired food out of the pantry, returning cans and bottles to the market, unloading and reloading the dishwasher a second time, made dinner (a yummy tortellini soup), writing a blog post (thanks Cathy for pointing that out), and carving pumpkins with the family.

And I was so good that God rewarded me with a day off from work.  Because of the impending storm, my district closed.  I work in an inner-city school district that doesn't bus, and the parents are not reliable enough to pick their kids up an hour or two early.  Voila!  Snow day without any snow.

The best part...wait for kids still had school.  (Pause for maniacal evil laughter.)

So, I decided to keep up my forward momentum, and use my day off productively.  I cleaned out the shelves in the laundry and washed load #6 (from yesterday).  I folded load #5.  I vacuumed the laundry room and my bathroom.  I stripped my bed and washed my sheets and blankets.  I flea combed the cats, yet again.  I went to the vets and picked up the free samples of flea meds they promised me after infesting my cats.  I made a Wal-Mart run and got Wal-Mart Rock Star parking (second spot back, after the handicapped and cart corral, directly in front of the door).  I found slippers for my kids since they've outgrown theirs, and picked up the few things I forgot yesterday.  I picked up Sophia from school and made us lunch.  I gave the cats their flea treatment.  I am en fuego.  

While eating lunch, my feeling of pride was slowly eeked out by a feeling of dread.  Usually when things go this well, all things immediately start falling apart.  We all know this.  Just when the going gets good, your world goes to crap, and fast.  This is not a comforting feeling to have while a natural disaster is approaching.

Sure enough, one of the cats licked the other's back, and immediately began foaming at the mouth.  Great, I just poisoned my cat. I rinsed his mouth out, and hopefully he'll be ok.  Sigh.

I'm hoping that this calm before the storm is actually literal, and not figurative for my life right now.

Hope everyone stays safe!

Photo: Is this how you will prepare for the storm?  :-)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why I'm Kind-of OK with Stormageddon

As we all know, the storm of all storms, Hurricane Sandy, is barreling down on us.  It's predicted to be completely and totally awful.  The meteorologists (who are in HEAVEN) are likening this to The Perfect Storm of 1991 (which also occurred on October 28).  This one is expected to be worse because it is expected to make landfall and impact Washington, Philadelphia, NYC and Boston.

People are starting to panic, and the kids are scared sh*tless.  Mostly, because they're afraid we won't get to trick-or-treat on Wednesday.

Here's why I'm kind-of diggin''s making me be productive.  I procrastinate...a lot.  I waste a lot of time, as well.   As a result, my house is in constant state of dirt, clutter and controlled chaos. I simply cannot keep the house clean and take care of all my projects just because.  I need a specific motivating factor to get going.  I know, in the back of my mind, that Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and I really need to get a move on.

Yup, that's me.

But with Frankenstorm looming, I've got to get ready.  With the kids this morning, we were talking about rooms in the house that were most appropriate to ride out a storm in.  The first floor bathroom is one of our few rooms without windows, and would be the best choice.  Except for one problem...the litter box.  Jake said, "I'm not hiding in there.  It smells!"   I was planning on cleaning it today anyway, but this spurred me into action.  Along with the fact that my kids had virtually no clean clothes this morning.  Yikes.  Here's my list for the day:

  1. Unload and reload the dishwasher.
  2. Run the dishwasher (this is listed separately because certain male adult members of this household who shall remain nameless don't seem to get that once the dishes are in, you actually have to run it).
  3. Clean litter box.
  4. Clean downstairs bathroom, including mopping floor.
  5. Flea comb the cats (long story, but thanks to the vet for infesting them when they got fixed).
  6. Laundry:
    1. My clothes (2 loads)
    2. Kids' clothes (2 loads)
    3. Towels and rugs (2 loads)
  7. Confirm location of fondue pot on top shelf in back corner of pantry to cook food.
  8. Bag up recyclables in pantry so that fondue pot is reachable without killing oneself.
  9. Charge solar powered lantern.
  10. Locate and take out flashlights.
  11. Fold and put away said laundry.
  12. Charge electronics.
  13. Reconcile bank statement and prepare deposits for PTA
  14. Go to Sam's Club to pay bill (which is due today).
  15. Go to market to stock up on a few things.
Considering that it's not even 1 pm, and I've already completed items 1-9 (laundry is in progress), I think I'm in good shape.  I'm gonna try to get some vacuuming done as well, since I hate a crumby floor.  I have dinner to cook, and we're carving pumpkins tonight as well.

Ambitious list, but I'm trying.  It can be my jumpstart for Thanksgiving.  Assuming we all survive the storm, that is!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How Racing to the Top is causing me to Bottom Out...

School is kicking my rear-end this year.  I hate it.   And I don't mean the schools I work in...I mean my children's school.  My kids are in Kindergarten and 3rd grade, and education in New York has gone to hell in a hand basket.  With the adaptation of the Common Core Learning Standards, and the addition of testing for teacher evaluations, it is a whole new game.  And one that is definitely less fun for the whole family.  It's not only making me hate school, but my kids as well.  Five o'clock, the usual witching hour, is now the dreaded homework hour.  There is frustration and yelling and tears.  This is not how school should be.

Firstly, it needs to be stated that New York State has adopted both of the aforementioned programs in order to receive federal funding.  Without adopting these measures, New York State could lose out on the monies from the Obama Race to the Top initiative.  It is a huge sum of money (something like $700 million).

However, the Common Core Learning Standards are not developmentally appropriate.  By adopting them, they are essentially accelerating the learning process up by about a year.  Meaning, third-graders are now expected to know material once presented in fourth-grade.  But they were never presented with the third-grade skills.  These "gap skills" are being crammed in here and there, without time for actual mastery of the material.  Also, presenting material that is above the learning level of the student does not lead to mastery and generalization of the skill.  It leads to poor compensatory strategies, poor study habits, aversion to school and learning, increased frustration and increased anxiety.  This is the perfect storm to increase the level of children acting out, thereby further disrupting an already disrupted and stressed classroom.

The teacher evaluations are making matters even worse.  Kids are now being subjected to testing of some sort or another at a disgustingly high rate.  (Even the kindergartners.  This is even more outrageous, because, in New York State, KINDERGARTEN is NOT MANDATED.)  The first two months of school have been about testing students for the the teacher evaluations, which include the APPR's and SLO's.  This means that the teachers have been out of the classroom, testing students.  Instruction has been interrupted, stalled and otherwise off-kilter for the first seven weeks of school.  In other words, to boost the effectiveness of teachers, we are pulling them out of the classroom.  Please, if anyone can understand this, explain it to me.  I do not understand how a teacher can teach if they are not in the classroom.

Our children need to attend school to learn, not to learn how to take tests.

Improving test scores will not make the United States more competitive in the world market.  Teaching at a level too developmentally high for a child's neurological development will not make a better student.  Here is my analogy for this...children typically learn to walk between 9-18 months, which is a huge range.  Every so often, you'll hear about a child who walks at 8 months.  Sometimes, kids are working on it, but just don't master it until they are about 2.  Outside the normal range, but they get there.  But someone notices that Russia has the best gymnasts.  They are physically superior to ours...they must be.  After all, at the World Gymnastic Championships, they have won an overall 772 medals, while the US has only won 243.  To be a better gymnast, the government decides that ALL children born should walk earlier so that they have more time to work on gymnastic skills.  So now, all pediatricians will be responsible for making sure that children walk by the age of six months.  Otherwise, they cannot get paid.  If they cannot get paid, they will not be able to rent office space and buy supplies and pay staff.  They will be forced to close.  But, you say, a six month-old can barely sit independently.  They do not have the trunk strength or stability to stand, let alone walk.  This is ridiculous.

This is what is happening in education.  Kids are being asked to read and write before they are PHYSICALLY and PHYSIOLOGICALLY able.  And if they are not successful, the teacher and the school are at fault.

The Common Core Learning Standards are designed to make us competitive with China and Korea.  However, the average US school year is 180 days, while in China, India and Korea, children attend school 200-220 days per year.  Up to 40 more days each year.   That means, but the time a child in China is in third grade, they have attended 160 more days of school, which is almost a full year for our students.  They simply have more educational time.  Also, the family structure is different.  In Korea, there are often several generations of family living under one roof, with only one to two children per parents.  This creates a large extended family...after all, it takes a village.  In China, parents can only have one child.  And because of this, most children with apparent or suspected disabilities are abandoned into orphanages, and education is not a priority.  In the United States, as of 2009, 33% of families are single parent.  In African-American households, 66% are single parent.  Right there, that indicates that American kids don't have the support that their supposed peers in China and Korea have.  Also, the cultural differences in Asia and America, especially in regards to mandatory military service for all males and length of work days is so staggering that it likens comparing education between the two regions to comparing apples to oranges.

All this being said, we do need educational standards, and teachers need to teach.  We have a lot of stale, ineffective or overall crappy teachers out there.  It is nearly impossible to fire a teacher in NY.  This, too, has to change.

I don't have any good answers.  I don't think there are any easy solutions.  One that I can think of is to propose is to lengthen the school year.  We no longer need our children available to assist with the harvest, so an 11 week summer vacation is needless.  The time off creates regression, and then teachers lose even more time re-teaching material that was taught at the end of the previous year.  What if we went to school for 7 weeks, and then had a 2 week break, all year round (with possibly an extra week during the December holiday break), or something like that?

We need to create a dialogue, and quickly.  Our children are suffering.  Our home lives are suffering.  Good teachers are being driven away from their calling.  Homework is being used as a catch up tool, and it is creating un-happy home lives.  My friend actually said this to me tonight (her boys are 10 and 7, and fight often), "The boys still have homework to finish, and I just checked on them.  They are playing nicely together, with the older boy teaching his younger brother to play chess.  I know I need to tell them they need to get their homework done, but this is so nice to see.  What do I do?  Can I let them play?"  We as parents should not have to ask that hard of a question...can I let my children play?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Randomness for a Friday Night

Even though it was a four day work week, this week seemed to take forever.  Just a lot of randomness tonight, and so I thought I'd share.

My dad bought me a gift today (pepper spray).  On the packaging, it says, "Making men cry since 1975."  I can relate.

My daughter's definition of cute:  Danny (a boy she likes), babies and kittens.

My son's take on Star Wars:  The Death Maul is actually a mall located in the Death Star.  Oh, and dressing up as Darth Vader is so two-years ago.

The mixed bag of emotions regarding making Halloween costumes has been replaced by a feeling of total awesomeness at making a costume without a pattern, and making creative use of fabric remnants given to me by a friend.  Excited about the outcome.

How many shows about Alaska are now on TV?  Even though they all pretty much seem the same, I'd take them over Housewives or Honey Boo Boo any day.

Why is one of the cats set to go off at 4 am and why can't I find his snooze button?

Bought a new novel this week, written by a high school boyfriend.  Kind of surreal.  Led to a dream that my own book was getting published.  Reality was cruel the next morning.

I could really use a massage and a facial.

I hope people stay warm tonight.  I am thinking of a preschool  friend going through a rough time, and hope she and her family are ok.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


About a year ago, I wrote a post about my annual making of Halloween costumes.  If you're really, really bored and need a refresher, you can read it here.

A lot happened last year while making the costumes.  My sewing machine broke, about 3/4 of the way through finishing the second costume.  I borrowed a friend's, but couldn't get that to work either.  And then my grandmother got sick, and passed away.  It was all very quick, but those four days in the hospital seem like they were the longest on record.  With family still in town, and snow on the ground (remember that--it snowed in October, and then not again until March!?!), I sent my husband to pick up my machine, which was blissfully fixed, so I could finish Mr. Lincoln's costume.

Here's how they turned out:

So, pretty much a year has passed. Sophia decided that she wanted to be Alice in Wonderland about 10 seconds after meeting her in Epcot this summer.  I held her to it, mostly because she changes her mind on everything.  After much soul-searching, Jake informed me that he wanted to be a Clone Trooper (like a Star Wars storm trooper, but from the new, crappier movies).  This surprised me, as he does not watch Clone Wars, and is not really into Star Wars that much.  He did correct me that he did watch Clone Wars once.  I was kind of hoping he'd be the Mad Hatter (probably the Johnny Depp version, not the Ed Wynn one).

Respecting his choice, I looked for a pattern for the Clone Trooper, but could not find one. I figured it would really be easier just to buy one.  I ran this by Jake, who insisted that it was fine.  He still went shopping with Sophia and I to get her pattern and material.  And he was fine with me not making his costume.

And this is where the mixed emotions come in.  Because of last year, there is part of me that doesn't want to make the Halloween costumes at all.  I just don't feel like it.  It makes me sad.  I even looked at buying Sophia's.  This was similar to what I found at the local mall store:

Um, no.  It's Alice, it shouldn't be sexy.  Oh, yeah, and she's FIVE.  Never mind, I can make it.  But I hemmed and hawed, and procrastinated.  And then I realized that it was already baseball post-season (I had lost interest a while back because the Red Sox were so colossally awful this year), and I needed to get working.  But I didn't want to do it.  The pattern and material just sat there.

But now, there's the part of me that is sad that Jake would rather have a store bought commercial costume that something I made for him.  He'll look like all the other boys.  On the other hand, he'll look like all the other boys, which is something we've strived for for him.

This is one of those things that should be simple, but it's not.  There are too many things running through my head and my heart.  I'm sad about the fact that my grandmother has been gone for almost a year.  One of the last conversations I had with her was about finishing up the kids' costumes.  I'm sad that my son doesn't want me to make his costume, because it means he's growing up.  I'm sad that they dress little girls like trollops.  I'm sad that I don't want to do this for my kids this year.


I buckled down, and got the costume done (which is a new world record for me in terms of being done early), mostly while the kids were on a play date on Sunday.  Sophia was thrilled to see the progress, and I am very pleased with the outcome.  The kids sat with me on their Columbus Day off, cutting fabric scraps and making different clothing items for the cats (I apologize to the cats).  The kids were happy that I was sewing again, and even asked me to make them Christmas pajamas.  That I can do.